Liberal Democrats have been accused of “unbelievable hypocrisy” after they announced they want effectively to axe the bedroom tax.
The change of heart follows a vote at last year’s Liberal Democrat party conference when delegates backed a motion proposed by North East activist Julie Pörksen which condemned the policy for “discriminating against the most vulnerable in society”.
Mrs Pörksen, who is set to be the party’s candidate in Berwick, Northumberland, next year, welcomed the Lib Dem announcement, saying: “The whole premise behind the policy was flawed.”
But as recently as February, the party’s MPs failed to back calls led by a North East Labour MP to axe the bedroom tax.
Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery proposed legislation to end the policy, but just five Liberal Democrat out of 56 voted for it.
The recent u-turn came after a paper produced by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) – but published on the same day David Cameron conducted a high-profile Government reshuffle – highlighted the hardship caused by the policy.
Mr Lavery said: “I’m completely lost for words. Is it any wonder that the public question the honesty and integrity of politicians and the political parties?
“This is obscene electioneering from a party whose credibility has vanished. The Liberal Democrats supported the bedroom tax with equal passion as the Tories – it’s a matter of public record.
“They failed to support my 10 minute rule bill, which highlighted all the problems they now wish to raise.”
And Newcastle East’s Labour MP Nick Brown said: “It’s completely hypocritical. If they hadn’t supported the Tory government in the first place then this misery wouldn’t have been inflicted on public sector tenants.”
Known officially as the removal of the spare room subsidy, the ‘bedroom tax’ involves cutting housing benefit by 14% for many tenants in council or housing association properties if they are considered to have a spare bedroom, or by 25% if they have two or more spare bedrooms.
Officially, the goal was to encourage them to move into smaller properties.
But the DWP paper reveals that only 4.5% of households affected in the North East have managed to find a smaller council or housing association property to move into.
Others had simply been forced to pay the extra rent. The paper said: “57% of claimants reported cutting back on what they deemed household essentials and 35% on non-essentials in order to pay their shortfall.
“A quarter of claimants (26%) said they had borrowed money, mostly from family and friends (21% of all claimants); 3% had borrowed on a credit card and 3% taken payday loans.”
Despite this, only four out of ten households affected had managed to keep up with their rent – while the rest went into arrears.
The new Liberal Democrat policy is to cut benefits only for people who are actually offered a smaller home and refuse to move, which means the cut is simply axed for the overwhelming majority of people currently affected.
But despite being part of the Coalition government, it remains to be seen whether Liberal Democrats will succeed in actually changing Government policy.
Mrs Pörksen said: “Liberal Democrat ministers now need to persuade the Tories to agree with them and bring some humanity back into the welfare state.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 20 July 2014